While the U.S. Navy’s Blue Angels are famous for their terrific aerial maneuvers, it turns out the elite flight demonstration pilots need the same on-the-ground legal services as the more earthbound among us. Claire Ford ’68 found this out firsthand, working as an attorney in the Navy Judge Advocate General (JAG) Corps in the 1970s.
“It was cool meeting the Blue Angels,” said Ford, who mostly helped the pilots rewrite their wills. “They are crack pilots and are like the rock stars of the Navy. The Blue Angels performances were—and are—awe inspiring and always made you proud to be part of the same team.”
Ford’s journey to the Navy JAG Corps began in New York, where she was born and raised. She completed her bachelor’s at Manhattanville College, where she majored in political science. “I was always interested in and very involved in New York government and politics, and it seemed as if a law degree was the best credential for going in that direction,” she said.
To that end, Ford decided to enroll at Fordham Law School. As a law student, she kept busy: she chaired the Law Forum, a group that planned lectures and debates for the Law School community; was a first place finalist in the I. Maurice Wormser Moot Court Competition; and served as a member of the legal staff of then-mayor of New York City, John V. Lindsay.
After a stint in a personal injury defense firm upon graduating, Ford pivoted to a career in the Navy. Her first duty station was the naval base in Newport, Rhode Island, where she went to JAG school. Ford was then assigned to the naval air station in Pensacola, Florida, where she met the Blue Angels and served as assistant judge advocate to the chief of Naval Air Basic Training.
“Certainly being the only female JAG officer at the Newport Naval Base and also at NAS Pensacola provided me with opportunities to meet many senior officers, tour battleships and the outstanding aircraft carrier USS Lexington, and attend events that I am confident never would have been accorded to me if I had not held the unique position that I did,” she said.
Ford’s Navy career was soon cut short. Within one year of getting married—she met her husband, also a JAG officer, in the Navy—she became pregnant. At the time, the Navy did not accommodate pregnant women, and Ford had to step down.
After spending some time away from practicing law to raise her four children, Ford returned to the legal profession in 1986. She spent several years at Spence, Payne, Masington, Grossman & Needle, P.A. in Miami, where she worked in personal injury and medical malpractice litigation. Later, she started her own firm while also establishing an of counsel relationship with the Law Office of Roberto Villasante in Coral Gables, Florida.
“100 Years of Women at Fordham is significant because it is not just a reminder that Fordham has been that great stepping-stone for women in the past, but also because it makes us pause and think about the next 100 years and where Fordham women will be in the future,” said Ford. “Fordham has always been at the forefront of offering opportunities for anyone who was willing to work and wanted to get ahead, regardless of gender. And, though the University has grown and its mission is at once more universal than it was 100 years ago—or even 50 years ago!—the same core values are at the heart of Fordham.”
Although she has been a member of many teams since graduating from Fordham Law, the U.S. Navy still holds a special place for her. “I am so very proud to have had the opportunity to serve my country,” she said. “I loved putting on my uniform every morning. My best reward was just being part of our great U.S. Navy—even if for a small part.”
During the 2018–2019 school year, Fordham Law School is celebrating 100 Years of Women.